President Robert Mugabe opened Zimbabwe's parliament on Tuesday with plans to push through laws that will allow him to appoint his successor without an election and force businesses to give a controlling stake to ruling party loyalists and others chosen by the government.
Mugabe said he would not retreat from his order for all shops to cut prices by at least half to try to curb hyperinflation. Officially, inflation stands at 4,500 percent but some economists put it at five times that. The cuts caused a short-term shopping spree but then brought shortages as shops could not afford to restock and sell at a loss.
He plans to push through a bill that will consolidate presidential and parliamentary elections and require only a vote in parliament to replace a president who resigns between elections. He also plans a law that will require all businesses to be at least 51 percent Zimbabwean owned and managed.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean women are suffering increasing repression and abuse as they struggle to feed and clothe their families in the face of the country's economic collapse, according to a new report from Amnesty International released yesterday.
The report said that women made up the "majority of the hundreds of Zimbabwean human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for engaging in peaceful protest marches or meetings in the last two years."
Most women interviewed by Amnesty over a three-week period reported being subjected to beatings and other ill-treatment while in police custody, in some cases amounting to torture.
"Some have been detained with their children or while pregnant in deplorable conditions falling far below international human rights standards," it said.
The report said that women activists told them that police often accuse them of being used by the British and US governments to overthrow Mugabe. This was often followed by random beatings, with women suffering serious injuries, including broken limbs.
"Zimbabwean women have demonstrated incredible resilience, bravery and determination in the face of increasing government repression. They are aware of the dangers they face but refuse to be intimidated into submission," Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan said.
A loose network called "Women of Zimbabwe Arise" has been subject to particular repression for its peaceful protests against hyperinflation and unemployment. Dozens of its followers have been arrested, and many held naked in cells.
Many women were among pro-democracy supporters arrested and tortured by police in a clampdown against the opposition in March.
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